Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have embarked on a project to develop methods that could reduce the use of rats and mice in pharmaceutical testing.The scientists will use mammallian cells, early frog embryos and computer modelling in a bid to create a new way of predicting drug toxicity. It is hoped that this new model would reduce the need for animal testing in medical research. The project has received £90,000 from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) as part of a £1.26 million funding round.
The development of a non-mammalian, pre-clinical screening tool for predictive analysis of drug safety will be carried out as a collaborative project between Dr Grant Wheeler from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences and Dr Vicky Sherwood from UEA’s School of Pharmacy as well as Dr Dominic Williams at the University of Liverpool.
Dr Grant Wheeler, overseeing the project said: “Drug toxicity is an important concern in the development of pharmaceuticals that are effective and safe for use in patients. Currently this requires the use of a large number of animals to ensure that new drugs are non-toxic and therefore safe to use in human clinical trials.
“According to the Home Office almost 80,000 rats and mice were used in studies on drug testing in 2012 alone. This is a huge number of animals, so any new protocols that can reduce this burden on animal testing could have a huge impact in significantly reducing the number of animals used for drug safety testing each year.
“We aim to develop such a protocol using a combination of mammalian cell lines, early frog embryos and computer modelling to predict toxicity. We will then check how well our protocol can predict toxicity in small rodents by comparing our results with those already documented in rats and mice.
“If the correlation of results is good, our protocol could be used to assess toxicity of new potential drugs in the early stages of testing to provide an understanding of an acceptable level of risk for continuation in the development of a particular drug.”
Dr Vicky Robinson, chief executive of the NC3Rs, said: “Supporting the training of scientists at the very start of their research careers to develop and adopt new approaches is critical for sustained progress in the 3Rs. The outputs of our studentship scheme are already having an impact on the use of animals in areas like neuroscience and the study of liver disease.”
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Dr Grant Wheeler. Image courtesy: University of East Anglia